4-H ‘changing with the times’

Jackson County 4-H’s youth development educator is hoping a couple of new initiatives will spark more people to become involved in the organization.

The first is Leap Into Robotics, and a kickoff event is scheduled later this month to gauge interest in children and adults of offering a year-round robotics club.

The other is SPARK clubs, which the state 4-H office started in the fall to allow youth to express their interests and encourage them to sign up for 4-H.

Heather Schneider, who started in her position at the Purdue Extension Jackson County office earlier this year, is excited to share these new programs and hopes it piques people’s interest.

“They are kind of changing with the times in order to meet the needs of the communities that we serve,” Schneider said of 4-H.

Jackson County was one of 14 Indiana counties to receive a grant from Duke Energy for Leap Into Robotics. About $6,000 was allocated for the county to receive 15 Lego Mindstorms Education EV3 kits and two expansion kits.

Duke Energy funded the opportunity as a way to help increase opportunities in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education for rural counties, said Erika Bonnett, Extension specialist of 4-H science initiatives with Indiana 4-H youth development.

“Not only do we think robotics is fun, but the learning benefits that youth can have from Lego robotics are immense,” Bonnett said. “Youth learn life skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and teamwork, just to name a few.”

One of the requirements for grant recipients is to conduct a free kickoff event.

In Jackson County, that’s set for 6:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 29 in the Seymour High School library. Jackson County students in grades 3 through 12 and adults interested in attending must RSVP by Feb. 25 by calling Schneider at 812-358-6101.

Three stations will be set up that night — one for people to get hands-on practice building a robot, another for programming a robot and the other for challenges with a robot.

“The kids build them, and then there’s actually an app that goes along with it where you can get on the website and download the software, and kids can actually program it. Then they can make it move,” Schneider said. “Once they get them built, the program will be more focused on programming them to do different things and setting up different challenges for the kids.”

Bonnett recently conducted training with Schneider and Seymour High School library employees Jill Railsback and Malia Rose so they are able to teach the students how to build, program and operate the robots.

“It was fun. I’ve never done anything like that before,” Schneider said. “It’s really user-friendly because they’ll show you a picture of what (the robot) should look like in order to make it move forward and drag and drop things.”

Schneider’s hope is that children will want to start a 4-H robotics club that would meet year-round just like the county’s other 32 active 4-H clubs. That will require an adult volunteer to lead the club and determine when and where it would meet.

“My hope is to get people in the community interested in volunteering with 4-H who maybe haven’t in the past, and they can utilize their skill sets,” Schneider said.

It’s also to let kids know 4-H offers more than just projects at the county fair and there are educational opportunities year-round, she said.

All Jackson County high schools have robotics clubs, and it’s trickling down into some middle schools. Schneider said she hopes this club will give students another way to learn more about robotics.

“Now that we have these kits, they are electronic, they are awesome and you have them for so long and there’s so much potential with them,” she said. “Once they build it, it’s kind of built. But I have some expansion kits, and the kids can add on to it. Then the programming, that’s when you can just do so much. They sky is the limit with the programming and the challenges.”

Seymour High School students also will have a chance to tinker with robots when the library starts a MakerSpace geared toward robotics.

“The way the world is going, there’s a lot of technology out there in pretty much every area and aspect of our lives,” Schneider said. “It’s everywhere, and so we kind of have to embrace it and get these kids excited about something, and maybe they’ll pursue a future career with this.”

With the SPARK clubs, other Hoosier counties have implemented them, and Schneider said it’s time to get some going in Jackson County.

The clubs are intended to capture the attention of youth with a single focus of out-of-the-box interests.

Any child in grades 3 through 12 who wants to start a SPARK club needs to pay $20 to become a 4-H member and find an adult volunteer to lead the group. The adult has to go through an approval process.

Six hours of contact time is required, and that can be done all at once or spread out, allowing flexibility for youth and adult volunteers.

It’s targeted toward adults who can’t commit to leading a 4-H club for a whole year.

“I’m excited about it because it just has the potential to reach people who maybe never have heard of 4-H before,” Schneider said. “Hopefully, it will spark their interest, and we could get them into a regular community (4-H) club.”

SPARK club members would be able to introduce their topic or skill to whichever 4-H club they join.

“A lot of people think 4-H might be just if you live on a farm,” Schneider said. “When I was in 4-H, I didn’t live on a farm. … It’s just kind of letting kids know, ‘Hey, even if you don’t live on a farm, 4-H is still a place for you.’ 4-H is always going to the 4-H it has been, but we’re introducing new things to meet the needs of the community.”

At a glance

What: Leap Into Robotics kickoff event

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 29

Where: Seymour High School library, 1350 W. Second St., Seymour (enter through the bus lobby doors)

Who: Students in grades 3 through 12 and adults interested in Lego robotics and how to get involved in a robotics program in Jackson County are invited to attend (elementary and middle school students must be accompanied by an adult)

Cost: Free (RSVP by Feb. 25 to Heather Schneider at 812-358-6101 or schneidh@purdue.edu)

At a glance

Any adult interested in volunteering to lead a new year-round 4-H robotics club in Jackson County can contact Heather Schneider at 812-358-6101 or schneidh@purdue.edu.

Anyone seeking information about joining a 4-H club or starting a SPARK club in Jackson County also may contact Schneider.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.